On creative risks and PhD blogging

Posted on June 1, 2011

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Nina Simon has just written a post entitled Empowering Staff to Take Creative Risks in which she asks “What are you willing to risk to pursue your dreams?” It’s a somewhat timely post for me, because I am stuck deliberating on the role of blogging for me in the PhD process.

Yesterday I drafted a new blog post which I think poses an interesting perspective on moving museum collections to the Internet. Only in its fledgling stage, the idea is probably not particularly groundbreaking – but I think it has the potential to be developed further and it could be relevant to my PhD. And suddenly I find myself stuck as to whether to put it – and other PhD thoughts – online or not.

I’ve asked my supervisors for their thoughts, as well as asking an open question on Facebook and Twitter about what academics think of the issue. The responses have been mixed. Some have said they couldn’t imagine it being a problem, some have warned against the risk that someone would steal my ideas, and one friend pointed out the possible intricacies involved with people posting ideas in comments, and how difficult attribution might be if my ideas were later informed by discussion that took place online.

And so when I read Nina Simon’s post, it made me question precisely what I am willing to risk in the pursuit of my ideas and my career. This blog has become an interesting vehicle for me. Although it has only been up and running for a few weeks, I’ve had quite a few people contact me because of it, and have started some interesting conversations as a result. It is letting me make some interesting new professional (and personal) contacts, and has helped ensure that my mind never completely switches off thinking about the field, because I’m always on the look out for something new to post about.

But until now I have never actually wanted to post thoughts that might later be important to my research. Doing so could be a risk. Someone could indeed steal my ideas without attribution. Having said that, just starting a public blog and putting my ideas – mostly half-formed and in need of work around the edges – into the blogosphere carries with it certain risks. But ultimately, I think that hiding away from criticism and the opportunity to fall flat on my face would be worse. After all, the things that appear safe in life often aren’t. Seth Godin wrote recently on ‘exceptional’ brands, and why they fail:

The problem with brand exceptionalism is that once you believe it, it’s almost impossible to innovate. Innovation involves failure, which an exceptional brand shouldn’t do, and the only reason to endure failure is to get ahead, which you don’t need to do. Because you’re exceptional.

The take home message from both Seth’s and Nina’s posts is that pursuing big things – like dreams, careers and in the case of museums, innovation – is risky, and that risks bring with them real opportunities for failure. But that it’s only by being open to failure that really interesting things happen.

Does this mean that I will upload the post I drafted yesterday? I haven’t yet decided, and will seek further advice first. Though unless anyone can give me a compelling reason not to, I probably will. If someone steals my ideas, at least that means they were worth stealing (is this a Web2.0 attitude?).

In the mean time, I’d love to hear from anyone else who is or has been in a similar situation on what they decided to do. I know that a lot of museum bloggers are also research students, so surely this is something other people have grappled with too.

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Posted in: Ideas, Personal, PhD